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MacDraft v. 4.4
by Microspot

Review by Gary Coyne

In 1984 there were two vector-based programs for the Mac: MacDraw and MacDraft. MacDraw was a drawing program and MacDraft was the first CAD program for the Mac and remains one of the strongest of the mid level CAD programs.

MacDraft has been around for so long that it is often discounted or assumed long gone. To make it a bit more challenging, Microspot has elected not to sell the software via "normal" channels (i.e., your typical mail order companies). This was done because Microspot felt that the technical support people received from the typical mail order company was sufficiently bad enough to warrant pulling their product and selling MacDraft (and all their other products) themselves and via controlled channels.

Because of this limitation, MacDraft is often overlooked. MacDraft should not be overlooked.

Still sporting one of the easiest toolbars to figure out of any

drawing program, the components are so logically laid out that once you have perused them for a few minutes, there is no question which item you need to draw an object. As seen in the MacDraft Toolbar graphic, every selection with a triangle in the corner has a variety of subsequent selections., Straight lines can be free or constrained to degrees. You can also select your circles by radius, diameter and three points. Non-straight lines can be drawn via pencil, spline, or Bezier. The eyedropper not only collects selected colors, but attributes as well. Using the circle or radii tool, you can also select parallel circle or radii lines that emanate from the same points as the original. The parallel linetool is used for making walls. All basic, all logical. The Special "Line Tools" (just to the right of the Line selection) displays various tangent, perpendicular, and parallel options.

None of these features by themselves are unique, albeit some of them are much easier to use than other drawing programs. What is interesting is how easy these features are to use in a CAD program. In one commonly used Mac CAD program, you need to predetermine the nature of the straight line you plan to draw before it is drawn. With MacDraft, you just draw the line: "click-drag-let go." If you want to change the line after you draw it, you just grab onto a handle and change the line. Even the simple round-corner rectangle is easier to use than any other typical drawing program. After drawing a round-corner rectangle, there are nine handles: one for each corner

(4) and one for each side (4), and a final ninth handle for resizing the radius of the corner. One simply drags this handle until the proper sized radii of the corner is established.

All measurements of items can be done by either dragging a handle (and visually observing the results), dragging a handle and observing the changes in the "Show Size" box that dynamically changes as you create (or change) an object's size, or in the "Resize" box where you can type in the desired size you wish, select where on the object one wishes the expansion or contraction from and click "OK."

One of the biggest improvements over the years is the Alignment Options. Typically when you wish to align with (say) the tops of objects, both objects end up moving to a happy medium. With MacDraft, not only does the reference object not move, but you can request the bottom of your object to align with the top of your reference object. There are many other options available with aligning objects but suffice it to say the alignment options are very powerful.

There is layer capability where the layers can be greyed or hidden when not being used, and you can limit printing to selected layers. This can be especially practical when you want to provide a drawing without measurements or comments to someone but require the measurements for your own needs.

MacDraft is also customizable. One of the menu selections is Shortkeys. Shortkeys allows you to assign any menu selection to an f-key on your keyboard for easy access.

MacDraft can also export predetermined data to Excel. Thus, if you have identified various structures (subcomponents) and provided cost information to these objects, these subcomponents can be exported to Excel for spreadsheet manipulating of the totals of quantities, costs, etc.

There are many more features I could praise.

New features in version 4.4 include MacDraft's compatibility with AutoCAD (it supports DWG), compatibility with OS 9, export capability of JPEG, BMP, Photoshop, PICT, and Quicktime, added duplication without offset, and a few other items to improve stability.

They are being somewhat disingenuous when they claim the export JPEG feature allows one to post to the web. This is one of those claims that is true, BUT! JPEG is used as a format for saving photographs for the web, not line drawings. For line drawings (or items with few colors like a button), GIF is the recommended format. Also, there is no mechanism to reduce the size of the drawing. So, this is something that you can do, but you shouldn't. In addition, line drawings look much better on the screen if they are anti-aliased. MacDraft cannot anti-alias. To make the drawing below, I exported the drawing in DXF format, opened the drawing in Illustrator, saved it in Illustrator format and then moved it to Imageready for final conversion into a reduced size GIF file.

Regrettably, there are a few limitations.

There are no more color options than there were ten years ago: 80 colors. (One can "make" additional colors by mixing the colors provided.) Fills are limited to bit-mapped images. You can design and create new designs, but these new designs will be bit-mapped as well.

You cannot set preferences for dimensions as hairlines or arrows outside as a default. Thus, you need to make this change as the drawing is under way or at the very end. (You can perform a "Select Special-hairlines" and then perform a global correction, but if you then subsequently add more hairlines, you have to remember to fix those as well.)

Likewise, there should be a key command option for placing dimensioning arrows outside leader lines. The default is inside, and you need to manually change this every time you need an exception.

Despite the limitations, MacDraft is a solid CAD program. The above drawing (Short path distillation apparatus*) took me about one hour to draw and dimension. It is an accurate 1:1 scale drawing that when constructing the item, the final product will match the drawing exactly. One might be able to draw this item in Illustrator or Freehand, but it would not be a scale drawing and thereby would have limited value in industry or the home shop.

*(The above drawing has been anti-aliased and decreased in size for web presentation and will not print properly.)

[For those who don't know, one of the basic differences between a drawing program and a CAD program is that a CAD program has accurate scaling. There are many other differences, but accurate scaling is often considered one of the basic differences that separate the two types of programs. Both types of programs are vector based, and both have rulers. But if you drew something in one drawing at a 1:2 ratio and then copied and pasted into a drawing of 1:5 ratio, the original drawing would decrease in size proportionally. That is impossible with a drawing program.]

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April 19, 2014

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